Brendan Venter guilty but has four-week ban suspended
Venter accused Premiership referees of killing the game
Saracens rugby director Brendan Venter has been handed a suspended four-week ban from match-day coaching after he was found guilty of misconduct.
Venter was summoned to a Rugby Football Union panel after criticising referee David Rose's display in Saracens' 22-15 defeat by Leicester on 2 January.
The disciplinary panel has suspended the ban until 31 December 2010.
Venter, who was ordered to make a public apology to Rose, later said he wanted to "apologise unreservedly".
The former South Africa centre was also ordered to pay costs of £250.
The RFU decision read: "He was guilty of conduct which was prejudicial to the interests of the union in that he, whilst taking part in a BBC interview, implied criticism of the match referee by stating that he believed the referee had been influenced at half-time without any further explanation so that a listener might conclude the influence had been improper."
In the match, which Saracens led 6-3 at half-time at Vicarage Road, the first-half penalty count had been 9-3 to the home side.
In the second half, the count was 10-4 to Leicester on their way to an away victory.
When I said that I believed he had been influenced at half-time I did not intend that to mean that he was improperly influenced
Saracens boss Brendan Venter
After the game, in a BBC radio interview, Venter said: "I think the referee was influenced at half-time, and that's all I can think.
"All I know is something happened at half-time, the game changed."
In the same interview, Venter also revealed he received an apology from referees' chief Ed Morrison for David Richards' handling of the previous week's 23-19 loss to London Irish.
Rose revealed he was not aware of this interview until he read about Venter's comments on BBC Ceefax later that evening.
He said that Venter had not raised his concerns before, during or after the game and that no communication had been made to the other match officials about his refereeing during the half-time interval.
Coaches can fill in a "Half Time Referee Communication" card to raise their concerns about three points of law with the match official.
These cards are handed to the fourth official, who brings them to the attention of the referee, thereby avoiding any direct contact with individual coaches.
Fourth official JP Doyle said he had received communication cards from both Saracens assistant coach Mark McCall and Paul Burke of Leicester about tacklers not rolling away and players being ahead of the kicker before chasing the ball.
However, he said he did not raise the points with Rose at half-time because "the referee had himself identified those areas of concern".
Venter, 40, said he had only answered a question honestly.
"I apologise unreservedly for making a statement which caused offence to David Rose during my post match comments to the media after our game against Leicester at Vicarage Road on 2 January 2010," he said in a statement.
"I firmly believe that I did not question, or intend to question, David's integrity and any criticism which has been implied was not meant.
"When I said that I believed he had been influenced at half-time I did not intend that to mean that he was improperly influenced.
"As I said in the interview I have no doubt that all referees operating in the Guinness Premiership, including David, are honest and operate without intentionally favouring one side over another.
"I hope that we can put this matter behind us and I look forward to welcoming David Rose back to Vicarage Road in the near future."
Venter's comments incensed many in the RFU hierarchy and were heavily criticised by elite director Rob Andrew who called them "unfounded".
Edward Griffiths, chief executive of the Vicarage Road side, had told BBC Radio 5 live before the hearing that Venter was voicing widespread concerns over how matches are officiated.
"I think what Brendan did at the weekend was raise an issue that is very live in the game," he told 5 live Breakfast.
"He has received a quite a lot of support since then and so I think he has started an open, honest and healthy debate.
"The laws relating to the breakdown are inconsistently interpreted.
"It is a problem across the country, at 12 Premiership clubs and even at the RFU where Rob Andrew was saying after the autumn internationals that there were problems at the breakdown."
Should Venter be found guilty of further rugby offences, his suspension "shall be activated in addition to any other sanction for the subsequent offence".
This would mean he would have no direct or indirect contact with his team or officials on match days.
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